Construction’s March unemployment figures showed a mixed picture as the industry’s jobless rate fell from the year-earlier and February levels, but it also lost 1,000 jobs in the month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says.
The latest BLS look at U.S. employment, released on April 3, reports that construction’s unemployment rate declined to 9.5% in March from 11.3%, year over year, and also was down from February’s 10.6%.
The BLS rates are not adjusted for seasonal variations and one sign of spring for construction is a pickup in project activity and a dip in the unemployment rate as the weather improves.
Construction economists point out that the industry's drop in jobs in March was the industry's first month-to-month decline since December 2013. BLS jobs figures are seasonally adjusted.
The BLS report shows that March job losses among residential specialty trade contractors and in heavy-civil engineering construction more than cancelled out a gain in the buildings sector.
Residential specialty trade contractors were hit hardest last month, losing 6,500 jobs. The heavy-civil sector also was down, shedding 3,900 jobs.
Robert Murray, Dodge Data & Analytics chief economist, told ENR via email: "Tough winter weather conditions likely caused some heavy engineering jobs to be deferred. In addition, the upcoming May 31 expiration of the MAP-21 extension has increased uncertainty over how much federal funding support that state departments of transportaion can expect in coming months." (ENR is part of Dodge Data & Analytics.)
On the up side, nonresidential specialty trades gained 4,400 jobs and buildings construction firms’ workforce rose by 4,300, BLS reported.
Architectural and engineering services, which BLS lists separately from construction, also continued to add jobs, gaining 4,200 last month.
Ken Simonson, Associated General Contractors chief economist, said, "Except for multifamily construction, home building remains weak and government officials just can't seem to find a way to pay for needed repairs to a host of aging facilities."
Over all, BLS said, the U.S. unemployment rate held even at 5.5% in March as the economy added 126,000 jobs, down from a revised gain of 264,000 in February.
Anirban Basu, Associated Builders and Contractors chief economist, noted that forecasters had expected a March jobs increase of around 200,000 and said that the actual result "was a stunner and construction was not spared...."
Basu said that the downturn in the energy business may be one factor behind the reduced overall job growth. He said, "While lower fuel prices are helping to support various forms of activity, the impact on oil producers has been jarring."